EU Seeks Legal Means to Shut Up Eurosceptic Bloggers

Fri Sep 5, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

BRUSSELS, September 5, 2008 ( - The European Union has issued a document recommending that some means be found to regulate and identify bloggers. The report by the Committee on Culture and Education "suggests clarifying the status, legal or otherwise" of weblogs. But bloggers have in response issued a warning that the EU’s desire to "clarify the status" of bloggers is a code for finding a means of government control of expression on the internet and keeping a bureaucratic eye on who is doing the blogging.

British political blogger Iain Dale, who writes under the masthead "Iain Dale’s Diary", linked to the report that complains that the identity and status of blog "authors and publishers, including their legal status, is neither determined nor made clear to the readers of the weblogs, causing uncertainties regarding impartiality, reliability, source protection, applicability of ethical codes and the assignment of liability in the event of lawsuits."

While the Committee said it only "encourages" the "voluntary labelling" of blogs to identify the authors, Dale wrote that the bureaucrats of the EU do not, to say the least, enjoy the complete trust of Europe’s blogging community. Of particular interest to the EU, they warn, are those bloggers who have been successful at revealing the anti-democratic machinations of the EU itself.

Bloggers have defended the complete freedom of the bloggosphere that allows anyone with a computer to say whatever he wants about any subject of interest. Blogs, they contend, are the last bastion of completely free speech, unencumbered by Europe’s sticky and stultifying mesh of bureaucratic regulations. They are also self-regulating. A blogger who is boring or whose facts are off, is quickly corrected by legions of commenters and other bloggers, a scrutiny not felt by mainstream media. The popularity of blogging, they say, is a direct result of this unregulated environment.

"They don’t seem to like blogs or even understand the concept of blogging, do they?" Dale wrote about EU bureaucrats. "We all know that ‘voluntary’ soon becomes ‘compulsory’. My label is the title of my blog. That is quite sufficient, and I don’t need some faceless Eurocrat to tell me otherwise."

Daniel Hannan, a blogger and writer for the Daily Telegraph, warned that the EU has been trying to get regulatory control over bloggers for some time. "Eurocrats instinctively dislike spontaneous activity. To them, ‘unregulated’ is almost synonymous with ‘illegal’. The bureaucratic mindset demands uniformity, licensing, order."

"Eurocrats are especially upset," he continued, "because many bloggers, being of an anarchic disposition, are anti-Brussels. In the French, Dutch and Irish referendums, the MSM were uniformly pro-treaty, whereas internet activity was overwhelmingly sceptical."

When Hannan first saw, in June, a report on the efforts of the EU to "clarify the status" of blogs, he dismissed it. Hannan says, "Not even the European Parliament, I thought, would actually try to censor the internet. I was wrong."

In June, the principal drafter of the Committee’s report, Estonian Socialist Marianne Mikko, said that bloggers "are in position…to considerably pollute cyberspace." She said that there is a growing amount of "misinformation and malicious intent in cyberspace" and that it is in the public’s interest to have "a quality mark, a disclosure of who is really writing and why."

European bloggers make up the vanguard of public discussion on pressing political issues, many of which are ignored or politely glossed over in more traditional media. Of particular note are the large number of "Eurosceptic" ‘blogs that investigate and question, and frequently expose to public view, the inner machinations of the European Union.

Foremost among these is the blog, EU Referendum, one of the leading engines of the popular movement to force governments to grant citizens a plebiscite on the various manifestations of the European Constitution. EU Referendum has short words for attempts of the EU to gain some political control over their fiercest critics.

Marianne Mikko made her comments as the European Parliament debated whether there should be controls on bloggers with "malicious intent" or "hidden agenda." Dr. Helen Szamuely, one of EU Referendum’s editors, wrote, "Our agenda is not hidden. We are full of malicious intent towards the European Union and all its many minions. I wonder if they mean us. Surely not."

In a secret report, leaked to the Irish Times this week, the European Commission is blaming the recent stalling of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish referendum, on the influence of Eurosceptic bloggers. The Daily Telegraph’s Bruno Waterfield wrote earlier this week that the Commission’s report on the Irish referendum, the "strongest language and darkest fears are reserved for the realm of the internet with its message boards, blogs and independence."

The Commission’s report complains of the power of blogs to disrupt their plans for Europe, saying, "Blog activity remains overwhelmingly negative."

"Blogging is also seen as an anti-establishment activity. Few Yes campaigners [in favour of Lisbon] came out with forceful counter arguments or were inspired to do so. Because of the many different sources of No campaigners on the internet, classic rebuttals is [sic] made impossible."

Waterfield comments, "The web, you see, is not yet dominated by the conformist consensus that permeates the traditional media and political establishment. This is why the EU does badly there and also why it does badly in popular votes where the demographic of younger, often working class, voters untouched by old politics is becoming more important."

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